Big data can drive big capabilities. But it takes day-to-day practices that can help build and sustain an analytics culture.

A report released today by the Partnership for Public Service aims to educate federal managers on how agencies can do just that. The report, From Data to Decisions II: Building an Analytics Culture, examines how to best use data – not anecdotes – to base decisions.

Building on an original report released last November that examined how several federal agencies use data, the new report identifies strategies for how to develop and grow an analytics culture within agencies and incorporate it into how federal workers perform the mission. It profiles seven agencies using analytics to achieve better results and the strategies used in a budget-cutting climate.

Both reports were joint efforts between the partnership and the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

“By sharing compelling stories of how agencies are developing, growing and sustaining their analytics and performance-management approaches, we hope to shed light on key steps and processes that are transferable to other agencies,” the report states.

To complete the report, the organizations studies how agencies are using analytics; how they got started; what conditions helped to grow their approaches; what challenges arose and why; and what success looks like.

“We found many parallels in approach across agencies and programs,” according to the report. “Driven by budget realities and the push for more data-driven actions, agency managers were examining their programs in a disciplined, comprehensive way to determine how they conduct their business.”

The report features details of analytics efforts at agencies within the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Defense and Treasury.

A common successful first step in creating a culture around analytics, researchers found, was agencies tying specific activities directly to what they are intended to achieve and linking them to goals. Focusing on these details help agencies employ a data-driven approach to managing programs, identify critical information to gauge progress and results, and ensure that only those activities that are key or essential to meeting desired results are performed.

To improve airport security, for example, a federal security director with the Transportation Security Administration worked with a team to break down the job of a transportation security officer at checkpoint and baggage areas. After analyzing and brainstorming around specific tasks related to the job, his team identified more than 1,300 knowledge areas, values and skills for a transportation security officer. Based on this analysis, they identified vulnerabilities in security screening and uncovered weaknesses in training, procedures or technology. They then pinpointed what could be improved through training and better application of procedures or policy and where technology could support improved performance.

“By instituting these types of systematic processes, agencies start building analytic cultures so they can look critically at what they do and thoroughly understand how their activities can lead to better results,” the report states. “The reward for their meticulous appraisal is the enhanced ability to serve the American public cost-effectively and efficiently.”